Calls for the resignation of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar have grown after the Sahiwal incident, in which four people were shot dead by the police. Rumours are also rife that the chief ministers of the Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa will be replaced by the end of February, as Prime Minister Imran Khan is not satisfied with their performance.
The opposition and media have singled out Usman Buzdar for his alleged incapability and lack of experience to run the affairs of the largest province of the country. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) wants his removal at any cost, because it thinks he is an insult to the post held by its leader Shahbaz Sharif for 10 years. It also believes the PTI government will collapse, if he is ousted. It has launched an all-out attack against him over the Sahiwal incident and also compared it with the Model Town tragedy, in which at least 14 people were killed and over 100 injured by the police in 2014. Instead of accepting the responsibility for the reckless behaviour of the Punjab police, used and trained by the Sharifs for political gains for decades, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) blamed the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for the killings. The comparison with the Model Town massacre was also misleading, because leaders of the former ruling party had personal points to score against the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and its chairman Dr. Tahiral Qadri. It also attempted to protect the accused policemen in the case. However, the Sahiwal incident was the fallout of misinformation received by the police. Still the Punjab government cannot absolve itself from it, though it was not directly involved in it.
Critics of Usman Buzdar say he is focusing on his personal development at the cost of the party and people of the province. He is trying to emulate former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who used to visit offices and suspend officials to create an impression of accountability and his love for the people. Buzdar’s use of a special plane and heavy protocol is also considered against the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has always defended his appointment and even drew comparisons to legendary cricketer Wasim Akram, by saying,”Just like no one thought Akram’s selection was the right decision, Usman Buzdar will also prove everyone wrong.”
The PTI is also facing challenges in the province after growing grievances of its ally, the PML-Q. In a House of 371, the PTI has 181 seats, PML-N 168, PML-Q 10, PPP seven, and independents four. In this situation, the PML-Q’s 10 members enjoy a crucial status. Last month, Punjab Minister Ammar Yasir, who belongs to the PML-Q, resigned over alleged interference in his ministry. After threats by the PML-Q leadership, Prime Minister Imran Khan had to intervene and defuse the tension. The two coalition partners also have differences over a new province in south Punjab.
In a bid to widen rifts between the PTI and the PML-Q, the PML-N has submitted a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly for the creation of Bahawalpur and South Punjab provinces. The bill demands that Article 1 of the Constitution be amended to create two more provinces in the Punjab. The Bahawalpur province will consist of the current administrative division that is considered Bahawalpur, while the current divisions of Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan will constitute South Punjab province. The bill also calls for changes in Article 51, which deals with the allocation of seats in the National Assembly, making way for representation of the two new provinces in parliament. According to the bill, once the amendment is approved, Bahawalpur will have 15 general and three women’s seats, bringing the total count of seats to 18. The bill also calls for the allocation of 38 seats to South Punjab province. After the amendment, the total number of seats on the NA would rise to 326, out of which 266 would be general seats while 60 would be women’s seats. The amendment also calls for 39 seats of the provincial assembly to be allocated for Bahawalpur, out of which 31 should be general and eight women. Eighty seats have been proposed for the South Punjab province, out of which 64 would be general seats, 14 women and two minority seats. Analysts say the bill aims to divide the local population and stop the government from making a new province. The PML-N enjoyed a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly from 2013 to 2018, but it failed to fulfill the demand of the backward area. Locals fully understand its objective and the bill for two provinces will prove to be counterproductive for it in the next election.
On the other hand, the government has announced that the South Punjab Secretariat will start operating by July this year and people of the area would not have to go to Lahore for the redress of their grievances. Usman Buzdar could be the chief minister of the new province, but the PTI is likely delay its creation until before the next election because its hold in the old Punjab will weaken after the formation of the South Punjab province. It will have to enforce defections in the PPP and the PML-N to retain power in such a scenario.
Experts say Usman Buzdar is being criticized for his failure to deliver on promised reforms in the police, bureaucracy, health, education and other sectors. But it is not his fault. His party has not finalized them yet. The reforms are in the final stages and are expected to be introduced in the next three months. He is safe until the reforms are introduced. His position will be in danger if he fails to enforce them.